SCOTLAND might not be a giant of the football world these days, but our miniature men are out to bring some glory to the table.
A decade after the nation last appeared at the Subbuteo World Cup, two brothers are aiming to flick some life back into the game’s ailing popularity.
Kevin and Neil Christopher, who play for Edinburgh-based table football outfit Hot Club d’Ecosse, are set to lead the four-strong national squad at next month’s World Championships in Manchester.
Kevin, 32, has already amassed the ranking points needed to qualify, while Neil, 35, hopes to do the same at a tournament this weekend.
They will then join Steve Bennett and Gareth Christie, of the Tayside Kickers, as Scotland lines up against global competition from up to 34 nations at Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium.
The brothers, who have been playing since they were boys, admit they expect to struggle against top seeds such as Italy, Malta and Belgium.
Kevin said: “It will be tough. In Europe, there are players who are sponsored by companies, and their flights and accommodation will be paid for.
“They seem to have a better set-up with their clubs. They have young guys coming through all the time. Here, it’s impossible to get under-16s playing.”
Although Subbuteo has existed since 1947 – when it was invented by Englishman Peter Adolph – and was once considered a national pastime, it has been marginalised in recent years by the rapid growth of video games.
Kevin and Neil, who both live in Edinburgh, said Subbuteo suffered from an image problem but added that a successful showing in Manchester could help change that.
Neil said: “It does seem old-fashioned, I suppose, but it’s a good game. There’s a skill and tactics involved. You get to meet people rather than just sitting on a couch pressing buttons.”
Kevin added: “My mates will probably laugh and say it’s a kids’ game but I’ll tell them that, until you’ve tried it in a proper environment with people who know what it’s all about, you don’t understand it. It’s a game for all ages.
“Having a Scotland team at the World Cup is really important.”
Mike Burns, Hot Club d’Ecosse coach and marketing director for the Scottish Table Football Association, said Scotland’s lack of representation was mainly down to difficulties gathering enough players.
He said: “Because of that, the team are definitely up against it – just qualifying from the knock-out stage in Manchester would be counted as a success.
“In countries like Belgium and Italy, they take table football far more seriously. It’s very competitive at international level.”
He added: “For the guys to be playing at the World Cup is fantastic.”
RULES OF THE GAME
• When you have possession of the ball and you are the attacker (as opposed to the defender), you must flick a player toward the ball and make contact with it.
• If you hit any other player on the way to the ball, it is a foul against you.
• If the ball hits a player of the other team, you lose possession.
• When the ball is in the shooting zone (the area that spans a quarter of the field from the defender’s goal line), you are allowed to shoot at goal instead of advancing the ball.
• An attacking player is not allowed to touch the ball more than three times in succession.
• As the defender, you are allowed to “block” after each attacking flick but the attacker does not have to wait for you.
• The defender’s aim is to flick a player into a position which makes the attacker’s job harder or to force a mistake.
The beautiful game
The first Subbuteo World Cup was held in 1987 – the year in which 16-year-old Justin Finch, then ranked fifth in the world, insured his right hand for £160,000.
According to the Federation of International Sports Table Football, there are currently 1171 ranked players. Carlos Flores from Spain is world number one.
More than 300,000 Subbuteo sets are sold worldwide each year.
There have been more than 700 different strips and there are currently 385 team sets available.
A one-off 1957 Journey into Space Subbuteo game is currently for sale for £2499.